The new Finnish Government plans to introduce legislation to allow its cities to introduce road tolls or congestion charges. Until now, cities have not been allowed to apply such charges in Finland, but the new Government's commitments to exploring emission reduction charges, as well as the fact that between 2011-2018 new car registrations in Finland increased by more than the population did, has led to a change in the previous view.
"The Government programme states that urban areas should be able to charge fees if they wish", said Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen, a Green party member. The preparation of a bill allowing cities to introduce congestion charges or other road tolls is about to begin with the involvement of various ministries. The Finnish Government is also looking at the experience of the Swedish capital, Stockholm, where congestion charges directly contribute to cutting emissions. Stockholm reports that its charge (and accompanying measures) has led to a decrease in congestion, a rise in public transport use and consequently improvements to air quality in the city.
The Finnish capital Helsinki faces particular challenges. Up to 40% of the vehicles on its roads originate from outside of the city on any one day. Neighbouring towns and cities are concerned about the introduction of congestion charges potentially having a negative impact on the attractiveness of the region and being a burden to the region's commuters. The Finnish opposition voices its concerns that a congestion charge would hurt commuters on low incomes the most. Reports of the joint authority of the Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) estimate that those commuting by car could face a cost increase of €700-€1000 per year.
There are also different views on what to do with the funds raised by any charges. HSL’s chair Suvi Rihtniemi wants to earmark these for investments in road infrastructure. However, Environment and Climate Change Minister Mikkonen would rather see the funds dedicated to further public transport development to improve alternatives to car use and to further reduce the environmental impacts of transport. Both however share the view that any new funds from congestion charges should be earmarked for transport and not end up in the general budget of the state treasury.
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Article published first at https://yle.fi/uutiset on 8th of July 2019.